Dad Church in the Age of the Virus

John Thompson

“Dying in Lent” has surely taken on a whole new meaning now that we are in the virus times. One thing we’re all dealing with is dying to church—at least the kind of church we’re used to where you get up on Sunday morning and haul yourself and family off to a brick & mortar worship service. Watching the sermon and communion prayers (etc.) this last Sunday online in the kitchen had its conveniences (such as scarfing waffles during the opening hymn), but it is not the same, and, of course, not what is intended.

Virus times brings many challenges, and many opportunities. One thing we do at our house when it is inadvisable to attend church in person (e.g. when kids are sick) is what the kids call “Dad-church.” We’ll be doing a lot of Dad-church for the foreseeable future apparently—along with our online corporate, not-so-corporate services. So what is Dad-church? It’s pretty simple really (and doesn’t require a PhD in liturgics or anything). We do have a basic formula:

  1. Open with the sign of the cross and prayer (radical idea, I know)
  2. Dad tells a story or explains some theological idea in 5 minutes or less, quoting scripture if possible.
  3. Question time. Kids ask questions about the story (this tends to be the preferred, and longest, portion of the thing.) A recurring favorite (despite the topic) goes something like this—Question, Andi: “Why should you not mess with God?” Answer, Joe: “because he can kill you!” Somehow Elisha and the bears just won’t go away despite my repeated attempts at “God is love! God is love!”
  4. They repeat the concept or story back to me. This can get interesting, and on occasion worse than a game of ‘telephone’ (likely reflecting my limitations in the realm of children’s ministry). I once taught the story of Jesus’ frustration with his disciples when they turned the children away (Matt 19:13-15). The story I got back was that Jesus hates children (Joe has a way with hyperbole, for effect). We figured it out though.
  5. The treat! Yes, it’s Sunday morning—a bit early for the sugar train, but I like to stack the deck in my favor.

There you have it. And if you’re wondering about the prep for this kind of thing, it’s easy. When we stay grounded in the Word, then the words are available when we need them to fulfill our God-given call to teach our children. Proverbs 22:6 states “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” And fathers in particular are called to bring up children “…in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4).

We’ve had a lot of fun and hopefully a modicum of learning with Dad-church. Of course, there are many methods and practices one can engage in to properly educate our children. I wonder what new (or old) rituals or other activities you and your family are doing these days…

John Thompson is a seminary graduate and associate professor in the school of social work at St. Ambrose University. His teaching and research focus on social and economic justice from a biblical Christian perspective. He and his wife Kendra are the parents of two Morning Star Mustangs. Joe who is 6 and Andi, almost 4. 

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